A real story of redemption and friendship, which illuminates a pioneering and still unknown battle, in the background of a Sicily that never ceases to enchant us. This is “The Women of Acquasanta,” a revolutionary battle for women’s rights womenat the Manifattura Tabacchi in Palermo written by Francesca Maccani, originally from Trentino but living in Palermo and teaching literature at the institute.
We asked the author to introduce us to the women protagonists who inspired this story of female redemption, a tribute to all women who fight for their rights.
The redemption of women in Sicily
Around a historic center that was an open-air play of modernist theaters, gardens, and villas, a slum gravitated to late-nineteenth-century Palermo, a mosaic of neighborhoods populated by people who were born and died in his house without ever leaving. . Arenella, Vergine Maria and Acquasanta, small villages by the sea, lived mostly fishermen, accustomed to fatigue and bad luck, men and women who had that sea in their blood from birth. Fishing was a male business, as was land, and this assumption has resonated in our imagination for decades, giving us the distorted idea that post-unification southern Italy was a region with an almost exclusively agricultural vocation, based on male labor.
That’s where my characters come from. Of an important absence, that of the women of the history of our country in this difficult but strategic time. Sicilian women, on the other hand, played a key role in the social, political, and economic events of the turn of the century, especially in the history of Sicily. There are many examples: from Peppa ‘a cannonera, to the women of the Risorgimento and the Resistance, to those who were dedicated to the fight against the mafia. Sicily is a woman like the most famous woman of the Sicilian Vespers, Maria Cammarata di Piana dei Greci.
And if Sicily is dying, it is right to hear forgotten voices.
And these are the voices I have tried to return to the memory of a city that owes so much to women, their work and their sacrifice. The risk is that we forget those who have gone through recent history, on tiptoe, laying the foundations for a change of era, that of the progressive emancipation of Sicilian women.
The protagonists of my novel The Women of Acquasanta, a fishing village far from the center, will find themselves animating one of the most dynamic economic realities of Palermo.
Franca and Rosa, different and complementary, always friends, are the heart of a story that is not only of redemption and consciousness but takes a universal breath where the theme of work is always declining in the indissoluble binomial work and family.
In the late nineteenth century as today, with due and due differences, still seems relevant the issue of women workers on which also weighs the full weight of care.
At the Manifattura Tabacchi dell’Acquasanta, where I told my story, Franca was one of the first to become aware of it, observing her classmates, those who already had children, and took them with her to work. She, who by nature has never been calm and submissive, understands that the treatment women receive in the factory is often unfair, unnecessarily oppressive. None of the companions, however, react or think of doing so, in the name of a custom according to which, if you are born a woman, this is the fate you must endure.
Franca, however, is not there, and drags Rosa with her in the hope of being able to obtain improvements, not so much for herself as for others: she is generous, with that authentic and clean generosity that she knows how to put on. the service of others. Rosa, more reserved and shy, initially tries to dissuade her friend, she doesn’t want problems, she doesn’t want to draw too much attention, but in the end she gives in.
Franca and Rosa, like many girls in the neighborhood, look clean and disenchanted, they are two good girls, hardworking and without shackles on their heads. And then they are beautiful, with that fierce and wild beauty of someone who has grown up on the street and has the sea in his eyes. They learned to swim alone more out of necessity than out of fun because if you are born a stone’s throw from the water, you have to make friends.
Then there is Maria, a friend of his who was already a mother, Mela -who is forced to sell herself out of necessity- and Annamaria, who was born as a result of the Unification by the Manifattura del Regno. And finally there is Bastiana who, they say, does everything to give Franca and others, out of malice and envy, proving that female solidarity is not an easy ideal to pursue, yesterday as today.
The women in the novel are real women, very different from each other, each with their own experiences and their own camurias, all with the responsibility of bringing money home at a historic time where the darkest poverty was the mistress and often his salary was the only income of the family. They were honest and proud women, worthy even in the worst situations, encouraged by a rare strength and a very strong sense of duty.
He didn’t want their memory to disappear, he wanted to give them back the voice they had lost over the years and perhaps never had. I don’t know if there really was a Franca, but I like to imagine it, because the stubbornness and the ability to get involved in the first person of the Sicilians clashes with the stereotype that wants them submissive and silent.
Writing The Women of Acquasanta was also a way of denying a prejudice of an indolent and agricultural South but above all a tool to subvert the idea that Sicily is a masculine and patriarchal land. Today, perhaps, thanks to the courage of those who preceded us, the voices of women are heard more than ever and fearlessly defy silence.
Photo credit: Amos Paruta